Monday, March 26, 2012

No Straws for You!

Tenth Stop: Fratelli’s 
Date:  March 18th, 2012
Location: 6890 Tylersville Road West Chester, OH 45069
Ranking: 10

Wouldn’t it be cool if Ma Fratelli from The Goonies would have greeted us as we breezed through the doors of this similarly named pizza joint?  On second thought, Ma Fratelli had a pretty nasty attitude, and as it turns out, attitude can have a significant impact on the lens through which we view our human interactions (and our pizza).  There’s a good reason that old saying exists about someone “leaving a bad taste in your mouth.”      
"The only thing we serve here is tongue!  You boys like tongue?"

We’ll just say it up front:  Fratelli’s was disappointing.  We walked in completely aware of its top ten status, armed with empty bellies, and ready to feast on some deliciousness.  In the end, things just didn’t work out as expected.  Writing a scathing review is not our goal here.  Obviously others have had great experiences with Fratelli’s, or it wouldn’t be ranked as a Top 10 pizza in Cincinnati.  However, we have to be honest about our own experience, as uncomfortable as that may be, because that’s what we set out to do on this pizza mission.    

This is another “order at the counter” kind of place, which always throws us for a loop.  Right off the bat, there was something a little off.  Our server seemed a little indifferent and even rude, and made us both feel rushed to order.  She asked us what we wanted, but didn’t hand us a menu; we had to ask and then grab one for ourselves.  Maybe if you are a regular, no physical menu is required.  However, we are not.  Perhaps intuitively, we had glanced at their menu online, and thought that the New Yorker might be where it was at.  Pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, and onions:  a classic combination that we both enjoy.  We ordered a large for its leftover potential.  It was also about 7pm in the evening, and neither of us had eaten much that day.  As usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.  Robyn suggested ordering Garlic Knots, since neither of us had experienced these before.  This Italian joint seemed to be the ideal place to give them a go.

After we spewed out our order, we paid on the spot, as is typical of most counter-ordering locales.  Our Receptionist of Rudeness did kindly split our check, though, as we requested.  We both paid with our debit cards, and upon receiving our bill noticed a line for tip.  With no cash on hand, Courtney quickly calculated a tip and hoped it would suffice.  As we walked through the restaurant and chose our table, Robyn mentioned that she was leery to leave a tip before experiencing the service, and would just leave a cash tip.  Wise words, and ones that Courtney will bear in mind during future pre-paid restaurant excursions. 

We sat down in a place that allowed Robyn optimal basketball watching (March Madness, y’all!).  A moment later, the same greeter/server brought over our drinks.  She set them on the table, said “You can get your straws are over there,” and then walked away.  Weird, right?  She actually walked past the straws in order to bring us our drinks.  So, we got up and grabbed our straws, as well as our forks, plates, and napkins to prevent future trips.  Self-service is no problem with us, but her drink delivery was still off-putting.  Further, it seems like they should make their operations clear with new customers before you ask for a tip right off the bat.  It just feels a little presumptuous to the newcomers like ourselves.   

The garlic knots came, and were good enough.  These are really just miniature breadsticks covered with some melted provolone and served with a cup of marinara.  The marinara was not very exciting.  It is a thin and runny consistency, so it is probably best just to dip your knot right into the cup. If you just want a simple, bread-y appetizer, then these might be a good option for you.  They weren’t earth shattering or anything, but not everything needs to be.  We also will probably be subconsciously judging every garlicky bread appetizer by the standard set with the almighty dough logs from Rocafella’s.      

Then came the pizza.  The large pizza at Fratelli’s is HUGE.  We’ve been eating a lot of pizza lately, and have ordered a number of “larges” across town, but were still surprised by this one’s enormity.  In fact, when Courtney tried to take one leftover piece to work for lunch the next day, she had to cut it into four pieces just to fit in a container.  We both liked the look of the sausage that is used on the New Yorker.  It is not crumbled, but cut into thin, rectangular pieces from links of Italian sausage. Those thin slices sit on top of the cheese and curl up at the edges while the pizza cooks.  It looked delicious.  The green peppers looked impressive, too:  bright green, fresh, and cut in nice, big hunks.  Once this pizza was placed before us, we hungry girls needed to eat it immediately. 
This entire piece took about a half hour to eat (not exaggerating)
Up close and personal survey of the goods

We each took a giant slice for ourselves, once again, expecting greatness.  And maybe Fratelli’s is great to some people – we surely see the potential – but this particular visit and this particular pizza did not measure up for us.  Overall, there was something just a little odd about the flavor.  Each of us felt that the pizza had an overwhelmingly salty flavor to it, which we came to attribute to the Italian sausage.  It wasn’t terribly bad, but it was definitely noticeable and was an observation that stayed with us through each bite. 

Once home, Courtney tested her leftovers on former Special Guest Matt, who liked the pie, but also noted the salty flavor. Robyn revealed that her leftovers were actually more enjoyable the next day when warmed up in the toaster oven.  Sausage is salty, we know, but we were a little surprised by how much this one topping affected our Fratelli’s experience.  The crust was thin with a crisp bottom, and with the size of the slices, Fratelli’s surely does achieve the New York style pizza it claims to offer. This pizza was good, but it seems that our overall experience was compromised by other details. 

Really, the two most memorable things about Fratelli’s were the salty pizza and the medium-to-poor service.  In regards to the latter, we just really didn’t feel welcome in the restaurant.  From the moment we walked in, we felt pressured to hurry up and order, take a seat, eat, and leave.  We had to seek out our own menus, straws, and consider ourselves lucky to have received just one beverage refill.  Sometimes poor dining service can be blamed on an exceptionally busy afternoon or an understaffed crew.  Neither of these scapegoats were true.  Two other tables were occupied during our time there, and at a few points throughout our visit, we saw 3-4 employees huddled behind the counter.  Perhaps we were inconveniencing them, who knows.  What we do know is that, if we lived closer, we would probably give Fratelli’s another shot.  Via delivery.

Fratelli's New York Style Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 16, 2012

Omnivores at Heart

Ninth Stop:  Fatty Patty’s
Date:  March 8th, 2012
Location: 644 Main Street Covington, KY 41011
Ranking: 32

Robyn was stoked to finally try out Fatty Patty’s.  Not far from her home and having received lots of positive buzz since its opening, the restaurant had been on her personal to-do list for a while now.

Fatty Patty’s is located in MainStrasse village, right on a corner near Straus Haus, Zola, and across from Designs by Dana.  We walk by this place all of the time, often together, but still had not yet managed to cross its threshold.  We grew nervous as we approached and saw a “For Sale” sign facing us from the Fatty Patty window.  Not to be too concerned, though – apparently they’ve been renting, and the building owners are looking to sell.  This isn’t a death sentence (yet, we know; but, we’re also hopeful). 

The dining room, which is located towards the back and past a bar-like area, is small and surprisingly orderly, despite the masses of neatly displayed cartoon and pop culture memorabilia all over the walls.  It’s actually fairly organized by genre:  Snoopy & the Peanuts gang in one corner, the Simpsons in another, and several shelves of that old BC cartoon, among numerous other collector’s items.  The tables are adorned with a variety of comic strips (ours was the Garfield table!) and some have copies of comic strip coffee table books atop them, which you can look at while you wait for your order if you aren’t already mesmerized by all of the things hanging from the walls. 

After reading some other internet reviews of Fatty Patty’s, it is clear that they offer quite a range of menu items.  People seem to be over the moon about their hoagies, sandwiches, and ice cream, but the real reason for our visit was of course, the pizza! Based on Cincinnati Magazine’s recommendation, we tried the namesake Fatty Patty pizza, which is a meat lover’s dream, topped with Italian sausage, ham, bacon, beef, pepperoni, “red sauce,” and Provolone cheese.  Since we haven’t ventured into the arena of all-meat pizzas, we thought we’d give it a go.  Honestly, though, neither of us were truly excited about it.  We generally like some veggies to mix it up, even if only carmelized onions. 

The crust was thick and fluffy around the rim, and thin throughout the diameter of the toppings.  Unfortunately, the thin crust in the middle could not support the weight of all that meat, and had to be carefully dished out and eaten with a fork.  There is no way you are getting the Fatty Patty in your mouth by hand, no matter how determined.  It seriously falls apart when you remove it from the pan (see picture below).  Courtney really wanted to double up the thin underlying crust and toppings with the hearty outer crust, and tried to fold hers in half.  This did not work out so well.  It should be pointed out that the crust around the rim was especially aerated, chewy, and tasty.  What Robyn really loved about the crust was their own specially concocted blend of grated Parmesan cheese mixed with other herbs/spices that flavors the crust while it cooks.  It came out with a charred but flavorful tinge to it.  You can also find this special blend of cheese on the tables to dispense on your pizza at your own will, along with the standard red pepper flakes. 

Speaking of red pepper flakes, Robyn was amused by the fact that she felt the need to “liven up” the flavor of the pizza with some of that red pepper zing.  Maybe it was all of those meats blending together to form one homogenous flavor that she can only describe as “carnivorous.”  Or maybe she felt the need to include some vague semblance of a vegetable on board this animalistic voyage.  Either way, red pepper flakes are not a common thing to see on her plate, so as far as her taste buds are concerned, there had to be a little bit of something missing from this pie.

There are areas where this pie excelled, however, including the subtle flavoring on the crust and the seemingly fresh, quality meats that served as our toppings. But, we both discovered that, when it comes to pizza, we definitely want an abundance of cheese and sauce.  Both of those ingredients were almost completely masked by the meat toppings, which was a little disappointing, because it would have been interesting to see how the Provolone cheese affects the pizza as compared to the traditional flavoring of mozzarella that we see most often on pizzas.            

One of the other advantages of Fatty Patty’s is the friendly service we received.  Our server was really nice, attentive to our needs, and eager to answer any questions we had. We would love to make some return visits and sample other pizzas and menu items (the stromboli, in particular!), and grab some ice cream for dessert.

Epilogue:  The next day, Courtney toted her two leftover slices to work to eat on her lunch break.  For lack of a toaster over, she reheated them in the microwave.  It sucked.  Pizza is never really that good after making some rounds (literally) through the microwave, but this was especially gross:  sloppy, gooey, soft, and blahhhhhh.    

Fatty Patty's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tom's Papa Dino's (named when people still knew how to use apostrophes)

Eighth Stop: Tom’s Papa Dino’s 
Date:  March 4th, 2012
Location: 290 Main Street  Florence, KY 41042
Ranking: 39

We were actually aiming for Bourbon House Pizza last Sunday, but upon arriving found a note on the door:  the restaurant would be closed for the evening due to unforeseen circumstances.  We were bummed, of course, especially since we had taken measures to make sure that this was an “open on Sundays” kind of place.  However, we acknowledged that the circumstances causing them to close were probably much more important than us being able to eat pizza for lunch, and began a spontaneous hunt for a new pizza location in the area.

So, where else would we go?  Courtney remembered another Florence location on the list:  Tom’s Papa Dino’s.  We made a quick phone call to confirm that they were indeed open, and made the additional 15 minute drive down to the Union area. 

This little restaurant is family-owned, and has been in operation for a little over 50 years.  The vintage-looking sign out front shows the restaurant’s age, and suggests how embedded this little pizzeria has become in the local community over the years.  Tom’s Papa Dino’s is definitely on the smaller side, but we’ve found this to be common for most of the good pizza places.  The lights are low and the colors are warm and inviting; there is also some family memorabilia adorning the walls to make it even cozier.  We snagged a table towards the back with a view of the kitchen and promptly ordered an appetizer.  At this point, at about 4pm with no lunch, and after driving around Florence for what seemed like 2 days, our stomachs were growling. The battered mozzarella sticks were the perfect antidotes to our hunger while we waited for the pizza.   

We had looked over the menu, and though they did offer a standard amount of specialties and a list of potential toppings, we opted for something pretty basic.  The Paparoni features double pepperoni and extra cheese.  You can’t go wrong with these two, so we took this easy route and placed our order pretty quickly.  We enjoyed some mozzarella sticks as we waited, and discussed whether or not these proprietors are aware of our blogging mission.  Here is a scenario that we imagined:  (Server) “Tom!  Papa Dino!  The girls from Top This are here!”  (Tom/Papa Dino break out in a panic)  “Mama mia!  Let’s give them a pizza that will make their hearts melt.”

We had ordered a large pizza chiefly for its promise of many leftovers and second suppers.  It came out, piping hot and simply smothered in mozzarella cheese.  The Paparoni is constructed in layers (i.e. cheese, pepperoni; cheese, pepperoni), rather than just throwing down a mat of cheese and topping it with the pepperoni slices.  This is nice, as you get little hidden treasures of flavorful pepperoni as you eat, as well as some crispier pieces on top.  There was ample sauce, which was enough to match the extra cheese and pepperoni; they really balanced it all quite nicely.  The sauce was a both a bit tangy and sweet, like most we have encountered. 

Considering the gooey mounds of cheese atop its surface, we were both impressed by the thin crust.  It withstands the cheese well, and we found ours to still be firm and dry.  Our only real problem came when we tried to slice and serve this bad boy.  The amount of cheese piled onto this pie makes it difficult to cut, as the cheese doesn’t seem to want to be separated from its brother and sister cheese strands.  This became easier as the pizza cooled but, of course, we were too impatient and hungry to wait for that.  In the meantime, we were victims of the dreaded topping avalanche, which actually wasn’t so bad, as long as those toppings were making it to the right place (i.e., our mouths).    
This is Robyn's 1st piece, after the arduous slicing efforts that took place before making it to the plate 
Tom’s Papa Dino’s definitely appeased our hunger.  The pizza was not our favorite, but we both definitely liked it, and we must remember that there is some tough competition out there in this pizza mission (although admittedly, not so much competition in Florence, KY).  Tom’s Papa Dino’s pizza is nothing fancy; rather, it is just a good, solid pizza from a nice, family-run establishment.  If you are in the area, swing by to try the Paparoni or another classic pie.  Be sure to snag some tasty fresh cookies from the checkout counter before you head out, especially if they are covered in white icing and green sprinkles.  You will not regret this, we promise.
"Since we started adding the icing on these, we can't keep 'em!" said the lady in charge

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nothin' but a G Thang

Date:  March 1st, 2012
Location: 2607 Madison Avenue Covington, KY
Ranking: 18

We had planned on crossing another pizza off the list last Thursday night, and since Robyn planned to be at Zola later that evening to watch the UK men’s basketball team chalk up another win on their schedule, we opted for a nearby establishment.  Giuseppe’s Neighborhood Pizzeria sits at an intersection between Latonia and downtown Covington.  Robyn had heard that it was a popular law enforcement hangout, and our visit proved the hearsay: when we pulled up, there were approximately 5-6 police cruisers sitting idly in the small parking lot.  Good thing we’re both on good terms with the law*.  
A proud display of their award from Cincinnati Magazine

We were both really hungry, which makes us very un-picky.  Everything sounded good!  Giuseppe’s offers a pizza loaded with meat (the MainStrasse Monster), another loaded with veggies (Levassor Park Garden), and everything in between.  All of the dishes have a clever name alluding to specific neighborhoods, enclaves, and city attractions in Covington.  One of their specialty pizzas, the Guns and Hoses, is a half and half deal in honor of those dutiful officers and firefighters who frequent “The G”, with one side covered in bacon, ham, and sausage, and the other featuring a spicy mix of capicola ham, banana peppers, and jalapenos.  Our patient and super friendly server asked for our order a couple of times, and finally we turned the tables and asked her:  what is your favorite?  Her immediate response was “the Terrace Topper.”  This is a barbecue chicken pizza and, since we’d yet to indulge in such an option, we took her advice. 
We opted out of this choice, but encourage you to partake!  We also will gladly excuse the misspelling here of "drunken," because the pizza is so fantastic.  

Maybe this isn’t a necessary requirement of a good pizza, but by golly, the Terrace Topper is awfully pretty.  The chef works some aesthetic artistry with its ingredients, spreading them out evenly across its diameter and drizzling the top with Giuseppe’s homemade southern barbecue sauce.  The other components include hearty but tender diced chunks of spiced-up chicken, mozzarella cheese, and caramelized onions that are cooked at the time of order.  We know this last detail because our server explained that this pizza would take a bit longer to prepare than some of the others, as the onions are freshly cooked.  On top of all this wonder, fresh sprigs of cilantro add a juxtaposing color and noticeable taste. 

Courtney was a big fan of their crust.  It was thin with a slender rim encasing the circumference of the pizza.  Though we do like a crusty crust, Giuseppe’s does theirs differently.  This one is a soft crust that retains a delicious doughy taste.  The sauce has a slight kick to it, but is not truly spicy (which is good for the two of us).  Our server recommended ranch as a dipping sauce with this particular pizza.  We obliged and, though it was a tasty accessory to our slices, we didn’t find it necessary to the experience.  This pizza is good on its own, as Giuseppe, and perhaps an almighty being intended.   
The stuff that dreams are made of

We were famished when we entered Giuseppe’s, eschewed an appetizer, and in the end, were quite content with two pieces each.  This left two apiece for lunch the next day (or “second supper”, if we are honest).  The leftovers were just as awesome, even in the microwave, which is usually a curse for reheated pizza.  This is a cute little pizzeria with an awesome menu and a friendly staff, and we both highly recommend it.  We agree that it’s one of the best we’ve had so far.  But, be warned, if you are on the lam, you might want to keep driving!   

*There was this one time that Robyn was scolded like a child by a really angry Covington police officer a couple of weeks ago for not using a turn signal while trying to turn around in a parking lot.  Oddly enough, this officer was sitting about 10 feet away from us during our visit to Giuseppe’s, yukking it up with his compatriots.  He seemed a lot happier, which is probably due in part to the scrumptious, award-winning pizza at Giuseppe’s.

Giuseppe's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner? And on Pizza?

Sixth Stop: The Works
Date:  February 19th, 2012
Location: 20 Grear Millitzer Plaza Loveland, OH 45140
Ranking: 9

Location does something special for The Works.  The restaurant is housed in an old, historic firehouse with high vaulted ceilings and quirky bits of modern art decking the walls, immediately creating a fun and engaging atmosphere for the patron.  Underneath dimmed lights and a shellacked surface, each table is decorated with a variety of artistic themes, from a local preschool class’ butterfly art project to a well-laid assortment of beer bottle caps. It’s a warm, welcoming environment.  Robyn astutely shared how, as we make these journeys, she has noted how essential the pizza parlor is to the social fabric of our communities.  All of the places we have visited so far have had a very “local” vibe (not to be mistaken with the uninviting “exclusionary” or “insular” vibes), with regular neighborhood friends and families comprising most of the dining demographic.  We have to say, we’re both a bit jealous of this, having grown up in rural suburbia where, typically, pizza was ordered from a chain, where your options and interactions were drastically limited.  Pizza for dinner meant ordering from Snappy Tomato, or feasting on a plastic sealed disc that hailed from the neighborhood grocery freezer. 

Firehouse doors!  We forgot our camera and had to rely on our phones for pictures.  Though they are not the best, they get the idea across!

Perusing this menu took some concentration for newcomers like us.  The Works has so many pizza creations on the ballot, and ALL of them sound delicious!  Right away, we ordered some food to start: a salad for Robyn and fried ravioli for Courtney and Matt (yes, this time we allowed a special guest).  The starters were fine, the ravioli was very tasty, actually, but our attention was mostly geared toward the anticipation of the 3 personal size pizzas we ordered to share.  At $7.99 apiece, we decided to each request a different personal size pie for maximal pizza sampling experience. We are so smart.          

It was a tough decision, but eventually Courtney went with the Pesto Pizza (sausage, mushroom, and tomatoes), because anything with pesto is rarely anything but wonderful. And it was.  The great big chunks of tomatoes sitting atop the crust were plump and perfectly juicy.  The toppings were piled high and tastefully complemented one another, with the green of the pesto creating a nice visual contrast.  Courtney loved this one, and contests that it seriously about melted in her mouth.  

Mmmmmm.  Pesto!

Robyn decided on the Mediterranean (artichokes, fresh basil, diced tomatoes, peppers, black olives, spinach, and feta cheese).  As expected, their Mediterranean pizza is full of strong flavor, thanks to the super fresh ingredients and crumbles of ripe feta.  The combination of these pieces is what makes it great, but the individual components still shine through.  This pizza is piled extra high, and was really the only one where a fork was truly necessary (we were warned of this by Cincinnati Magazine, so now we are warning you).  

This picture is a bit blurry, but you can still make out those giant chunks of feta.

Special Guest Matt, a well known champion of all things breakfast, ordered the Breakfast Pizza.  This puppy offered a base of scrambled eggs and American cheese, and allowed you to pick the meat topping of your choice (Matt, of course, went with bacon).  If we recall correctly, you are actually welcome to add additional breakfast-y toppings, but Matt was worried that too much would ruin a good thing, and left it at that.  He was not disappointed.  Courtney was actually pretty impressed with his sharing skills, as he still willingly exchanged two of his slices for a piece each of Robyn’s and Courtney’s.   

Best all around.
All of the pizzas came to our table quickly, adorned with a charred, bubbly crust that is the signature of a brick oven style dish.  All of them were really great, and no one regretted their individual choices.  However, by far, the favorite of the night was the Breakfast Pizza.  A surprising contender for both a dinner option and a pizza mission in general, this pie was a savory and unique respite from the throngs of marinara and mozzarella concoctions of which we are typically so fond.  After learning of the egg/cheese base, Robyn admitted some slight concern that the sauce would be made of “runny-ass eggs”.  Thankfully, this was not the case.  The blend was warm, buttery, and, well, simply delish.  There were hunks of scrambled eggs on top and, though this might look odd on a pizza, that visual confusion did not affect its pleasant taste.  Our only concern would be leftovers; this guy probably wouldn’t keep well for the next day’s lunch.  We figured we should just finish it off, so as not to have to worry about its refrigeration.

We’re not avid cyclists, but if there were a pizza from The Works awaiting us at the end of our trek, we might be convinced to hop on a banana seat for a relaxing ride more often! Plus, we still need to try that Ballpark pizza, which features hot dog slices as a topping.  Yummy?

The Works on Urbanspoon